Yes, I know, school started two months ago. But for me, it started today.
For the past three years, I’ve been a volunteer with Raise Your Hand Tennessee, a United Way-coordinated program which places volunteers in elementary schools to help with reading for an hour a week – either through one-on-one tutoring or working with groups.
I am a volunteer at Learning Way Elementary, in the class of looping first-and-second grade teacher Regan Aymett. “Looping” means she has a class of first-graders, then stays with that same group of kids the next year as their second grade teacher, then loops back and starts all over again with a new class of first graders.
I volunteer on Monday mornings. When I first signed up for the program, I chose to work with groups rather than one-on-one (it’s completely up to you when you sign up). When I get to Regan’s class, she will generally break the class up into small groups, and I’ll work with one of the groups. The groups will rotate every few minutes, so by the end of the hour I’ll usually have worked with all of the kids. Today, I was listening to the kids at my table read from a little booklet. It was a fairy tale of sorts about three princes whose father, the king, turned them into bunny rabbits for misbehaving. One of the bunny princes escapes and falls in love with a beautiful princess, sort of a twist on the old Frog-and-Princess story. I would have two or three kids at a time, and each child would read a page at a time. We would rotate around the table. I was there to help with big or hard-to-pronounce words or names, of course, but the kids would also sometimes correct or help each other.
One things I noticed with several different groups today was that a child who would struggle while reading herself (or himself) would sometimes seem to do much better when correcting the child next to them! I’m not sure exactly how to explain this except that maybe they feel more pressure when it’s their turn to read. Regan, an NEA Master Teacher, could probably explain it to me, but obviously I never get a chance to ask her stuff like that when I’m in the classroom.
Because this is the second-grade year for Regan, most of her students this fall are the same students she had last year, and so I didn’t have to be introduced. The kids knew me. Because of the way the groups worked today, I didn’t get to see everyone, and Regan apologized to the kids who “didn’t get to work with Mr. Carney,” as if that were some sort of special treat.
New United Way of Bedford County executive director (and my former T-G co-worker) Pam Fisher, like Dawn Holley before her, waited to let school get started and things to settle in before calling the schools to place volunteers. When I ran into Pam at a news event last week, she told me that I could go ahead and start back for this school year whenever it was convenient for me and Regan.
New Learning Way principal Mary Pitner, whom I’ve known for years, happened to be in the front office when I signed in and got my visitor badge this morning and thanked me warmly for volunteering. But I told her it was my pleasure – every fall, I’m chomping at the bit to start up again.
If you’re in Tennessee, you can go to the Raise Your Hand website and find out more about how to volunteer. They’re very flexible, at least here in Bedford County, and can find a school and a schedule that fits you. You can, as I already noted, decide whether you want to work with a child one-on-one or with groups. United Way does a background check on each volunteer before placing them in the schools.